Wilderness 101: Multiple Use and Sustained Yield

By Beacon Staff

Welcome back, class. Let’s dig out that copy of the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA) you saved in your computer from last time, specifically MUSYA Section 4(b): “‘Sustained yield of the several products and services’ means the achievement and maintenance in perpetuity of a high level annual or regular periodic output of the various renewable resources of the national forests without impairment of the productivity of the land.”

To further clarify, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines sustained yield as “production of a biological resource (as timber or fish) under management procedures which ensure replacement of the part harvested by regrowth or reproduction before another harvest occurs.”

In short, the intent is to manage multiple resources in the most productive way possible over the long run … nothing new. Multiple use and sustained yield has been going on for thousands of years.

The “conservation industry” (Hillary Clinton’s words right here in the May 28 Beacon, not mine) complains that sustained yield management is bad for the environment. As a Canadian activist Web site gripes, managing forests for the long term “fragments forest ecosystems and radically changes age classes and species composition.”

Changes from what? Most “experts” will tell you the “baseline” ideal is the “pre-Columbian era.” That was before Cristoforo Columbo and his buddies ruined everything with their guns, horses and their deadliest weapon, disease.

A long and growing list of scholarly work makes it clear that Indians profoundly shaped their forests, their grasslands, wildlife and vegetative distributions and compositions – changing the very “Nature” of their environment. If you doubt this, please take a few evenings to sit down with Charles C. Mann’s 2005 epic 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

Before Columbus, millions of Indians rather thickly inhabited a Western Hemisphere landscape that they managed for sustained, and hopefully high, yields … of game, berries, fish, buffalo, corn, deer, elk, basically anything they could eat or otherwise use. As Mann puts it, “Native Americans ran the continent as they saw fit.”

Sometimes, Indians blew it. The mound-building tribes of Missouri over-reached, exhausted their ground, and vanished, for example. The Anasazi didn’t really blow it, it’s just that the climate changed and their technology couldn’t keep up. Who knows … maybe the Anasazi had a pealo-Sierra Club?

For the most part, Indians did a fine job of living within their means, but they made a living by whatever means became available. Indians were not paleo-Luddites averse to technological improvement – never were, and certainly are not today.

Indians cultivated a vast array (over 500) of corn strains to suit the varied climates of the Western Hemisphere. Let’s not forget that when William Clark made his swing up through the Milk River country, he had to kill a couple of Blackfeet after his “high-tech” – his guns and horses. And speaking of horses, by all accounts the Nez Perce were every bit as scientific and savvy with their Appaloosas as Kentuckians with their Thoroughbreds. And if you visit Indian reservations today, you would be impressed at the way tribal land managers have integrated their traditions together with the latest and greatest in modern technology.

The bottom line: Pre-Columbian America’s landscape was a human artifact, not “natural.” Wherever and whenever they had the ability to do so, Indians managed the American landscape for sustained yield. In many places, Indian berry meadows and open stands of parked-out trees full of game remained for 50 to a 100 years after Eurodiseases killed most of them off, testimony to the basic soundness of 10,000 years of human practice.

A greater intellect than I has suggested many times that we would do well to consider three rules when it comes to land management: Rule One is, “We cannot have all things on all acres all of the time. It does not happen in Nature.” Rule Two, is that “Nature is indifferent to human need.” Rule Three, of course, is that “Humans can alter the first two rules through management.”

And what sort of management is that? Multiple-use, sustained-yield.

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